Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bake Your Own Bread!

I bake all the bread for our family. Mom started teaching me to bake when I was about 9. She was expecting my youngest brother and could not stand for any amount of time. Since then, I have been learning and experimenting, and I love to bake bread. This recipe is a family staple. Mom developed it years ago and I bake a batch at least once a week.

Baking your own bread is a rewarding experience. First of all, you know exactly what is going into every loaf you eat. No preservatives, additives, or ingredients with long unpronounceable names! Homemade bread also saves you money. The last time I calculated the cost of this recipe, it was about sixty cents a loaf. Now you can buy a loaf of cheap all white flour gumminess (is that a word?!) for a small price, but if you're looking for a loaf of really good bread, you can expect to pay at least a few dollars! I think homemade bread supercedes even the very best bakery bread.

This recipe makes 4 loaves. For smaller families, it is easily halved. The bread also freezes well. Put it in a plastic bag or wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and store in the freezer for up to several weeks. Remember that homemade bread does not have any preservatives, so it does not have a long shelf life. It will mold in just two days in warm weather, so it definitely needs to be frozen. You could even freeze half a loaf.

I prefer to knead by hand, but if you have a heavy duty mixer, like a Bosch or Kitchen Aid, feel free to use it. I have found that it is easy to add too much flour when I use my Bosch, so be careful. This dough needs to stay relatively wet.

Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread

3 cups quick cooking oats
9 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1 cup unpacked brown sugar
3 tablespoons salt
6 tablespoons oil
6 cups boiling water
4 cups white flour
3 tablespoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cup water

In a large bowl, combine the oats, 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, brown sugar, salt, and oil.

Pour boiling water over. Mix very well.

Let sit, stirring occasionally, until oatmeal mixture has cooled to lukewarm. (about 105 degrees) This will take 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature.

Mix in 1 1/2 cups the water. Add 8 cups whole wheat flour, all of the white flour and the yeast. Mix until the dough is so stiff you can not stir any more.

You may add more white flour if needed. Turn dough out onto floured counter.

Mix by hand until a cohesive ball of dough forms. This will take about a minute.

Knead for 10 minutes, using additional white flour if necessary. The dough will be very sticky, but try to use as little flour as possible.

Adding too much flour makes dry coarse bread. Use a dough scraper (I just use a plastic putty knife!) to scrape up the dough from the counter and your hands as you knead. Don't worry about the dough sticking to everything.

When the dough feels stretchy, you know it is kneaded enough.

Put dough back in mixing bowl, cover, and put in a warm place to rise.

The dough should double in size and look fluffy. This will take about an hour. The temperature of your house and the humidity levels affect rising times, so you must learn to rely on your assesment rather than a timer. The dough is fully risen when a finger pressed into the surface of the dough leaves an indention.

When the dough is risen, punch down gently, and cut into four equal parts. Grease four 9" by 5" bread pans. To make loaves, pat or roll one part of dough into a rectangle about as wide as your bread pan and a little longer.

Roll up the dough, starting at the narrower end.

Tuck the ends under, and pinch seams to seal. Place seam side down in greased pans.

Cover loaves and let rise until they are crowning over the edge of the pan. This will take from 30 minutes to an hour.

At the end of rising time, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and turn out of pan onto a cooling rack.

Brush the top crust with a little butter if you like. I don't usually do this, but it is a nice touch, and a good way to cover up a loaf that was slightly over baked. Let bread cool completely before storing. If you must cut the bread before it has cooled, remember that the texture will be slightly gummy, and the center of the loaf may sink a bit. The crumb continues to develop as the bread cools. Sometimes I decide it is worth it, though, because warm bread is so good!

Another bread that is so easy to bake is French Bread. We make this a lot to go with spaghetti or casseroles. It is really good spread with butter, sprinkled with garlic and toasted in the oven. And french toast is always a favorite at our house!

French Bread

2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons instant yeast
6 cups white flour (you can substitute whole wheat flour for part if you prefer)

In a medium size mixing bowl, combine water, sugar, oil, and salt. Add flour and yeast. Mix well.

Turn out and knead 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place dough on bowl and let rise until doubled.

Divide dough in half. On floured surface, roll each half to a 12" by 15" rectangle. Roll up, starting with the 15" edge.Place loaves on greased cookie sheets. Let rise until doubled. keep and eye on them. They usually rise really fast at this point.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a very sharp knife or a razor blade, make several diagonal slashes across the tops of the loaves. Mix 1 beaten egg and 2 tablespoons milk and brush on the loaves. Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.

Bake about 20 minutes. Bread should be lightly browned. Remove from pans to cool on a rack.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Apron Giveaway!

Lynn, from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures is doing a review of my Etsy Store, Emily's Emporium. And the review includes giving away one apron from my store! Go read the post to find out how you could win your favorite apron from Emily's Emporium! The giveaway will end Wednesday, March 25 at 5 o'clock.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Homes For All

The dog has a kennel, the pig has a sty,
The rabbit a burrow (I don't know just why);
The bee has a hive, and the bird has a nest,
For bossy, the cow, a good barn is best.
The horse has a stable, the chicken a pen,
The cat has a mat, but the wolf has a den;
A cave for the bear, and a hole for a mouse,
But I am so glad that I live in a house!

by Mable Watts

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Even Better Butter

If you read my blog post Better Butter a few weeks ago, here is an updated post. I wrote that I make homemade margarine with 1 cup butter, 1/4 cup water and 3/4 cup oil. I got a comment from Shannon saying that she uses 1/2 cup water. I tried it, and it works just fine! Today I made butter using 1 cup very soft butter, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup canola oil, and 1/2 cup water. This is even better butter!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Natural Dandruff Remedies

I would like to share with you some dandruff remedies that I have used. I have struggled with dandruff for about a year and a half. For me, it is worsened by using shampoos and other hair products that are loaded with chemicals such as laurel sulfates. The first thing I did was cut out the Equate shampoo I was using and switch to Tea Tree Triple Treat shampoo and conditioner by Giovanni. It is loaded with essential oils that cleanse and heal the scalp. After every washing, I rinsed my hair with Herbal Vinegar Infusion. (recipe below) A few times a week I coated my scalp with Isoplus Tea Tree and Aloe conditioner. This conditioner is really thick and greasy kind of like Vaseline. I put it on at night, and wash it out the next morning. After following this hair care schedule for about two weeks, my scalp was soft and smooth and my naturally curly hair was shinier and curlier than ever! I still use the natural shampoo, because just washing my hair once with the chemical types makes my scalp start to snow. Now that it is healed up, I don't use the vinegar rinse. (It doesn't exactly smell good.) But I do occasionally use the scalp conditioner.

Herbal Vinegar Infusion
2 cups distilled or spring water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons rosemary
1 tablespoon nettle
10 drops essential oil of tea tree, clary sage, or rosemary
(I used tea tree and added about 5 drops lavender as well.)

Bring the water and vinegar to a boil. Remove from heat. Add herbs, cover, and steep for about 2 hours. Strain, add essential oils, and bottle. Np need to refrigerate. Shampoo hair and rinse, or of not shampooing, wet hair and squeeze out excess. Apply approximately 1/4 cup to wet scalp and gently massage for 2 to 3 minutes. Rinse with cool water. Try to use daily until itching and flaking stops.

Warning: This vinegar infusion reeks while you're making it! I heat bring the water and vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan with a lid. Then when it's time, I crack the lid just enough to pop in the herbs. I put the pan in a place we won't be for most of the day to steep. I haven't found a way to reduce the odor while I'm making it, so I just try to keep it out of the house. After the infusion has cooled, it still has a slight odor, but I don't think it's too strong. I can smell it on my hair until it has completely dried.